Tri-City Storm goaltenders Jake Kielly and Dayton Rasmussen share a friendship that dates back to their time in Eden Prairie, MN. The pair, who were reunited earlier in the season after the Storm acquired Rasmussen in a trade, have been a crucial piece to Tri-City’s success this season in addition to the individual success both have shared on the ice.
Perhaps best described as yin and yang, the two are perfect opposites with the exception of their shared hometown and summer goaltending coach Dave Rogalski. Both netminders arrived to the USHL in completely different circumstances, have contrasting personalities off the ice and display dramatically different playing styles.
Storm assistant coach Taylor Nelson laughs when he begins to reflect on the duo.
“They’re different goalies. Each and every goalie is different,” Nelson said. “Both Jake and Dayton have made great strides and have become their own goaltender. I’m not here to change styles, but I’m making sure they feel comfortable in certain situations.”
Nelson described Kielly as the patient veteran, waiting as long as possible to make movement in net forcing the shooter to decide. In contrast, Dayton has displayed world-class athleticism and tends to be more aggressive coming out of the net to stop pucks. Neither style is necessarily better, and all three echoed one another when saying that it helps balance the goaltenders.
Kielly, a Clarkson University commit, is playing in his first USHL season as a 19-year old. Originally a 2012 USHL Phase I Draft pick of the Tri-City Storm, Kielly made the transition from Eden Prairie High (USHS) to Victory Honda (T1EHL) the following year. After being caught in a deep Tri-City goaltending depth chart last year, Kielly played the 2014-15 season with the Austin Bruins (NAHL), taking them to the Robertson Cup Final.
Rasmussen, a University of Denver commit, is also playing in his first USHL season as a 17-year old. Originally a 2014 USHL Phase I Draft pick of the Waterloo Black Hawks, Rasmussen made the transition from Holy Family Catholic (USHS) to Colorado Thunderbirds (T1EHL) prior to making his USHL debut earlier this season.
Both goaltenders have a .924 SV% or better, with a goals against average below 2.25 while playing for Tri-City. Only five USHL goaltenders this season have equal numbers. Tri-City’s team defense also ranks near the league’s best with 136 goals against, sixth best in the USHL.
“They have a great relationship as goalie partners and both push each other,” Nelson added. “You look down at one end and see a guy working hard so the other steps things up. We have video meetings and goalie sessions and we just discuss between us three and it’s nice to just talk, have ideas and knowing different situations. Having that open-minded communication and having that strong relationship has helped them evolve.”
Kielly doesn’t necessarily identify as the older mentor, but rather a friend. He takes more pride in how hard he has had to work to get to his starting role in Tri-City, and how ultimately he wanted it more than anyone else.
“A lot of these teams have their top guys who they can rely on,” said Kielly. “A lot of teams have guys returning and if you’re new or young it’s good to have a mindset that you need to work for your time. Not a lot of young kids can come in and grasp the USHL, or they become frustrated, but the kids that understand they have to work for it are ultimately those who succeed.”
That hard-working mentality is something Kielly and the Tri-City coach staff hopes has shined throughout the locker room.
“I’m not going to call myself a mentor but I want to be someone who Dayton can go to,” said Kielly. “I want him to know what it’s like to be a junior hockey player: success, the schedule and going into every day with a working attitude and I want him to know what I’ve gone through and hopefully it well help him out.”
Rasmussen agreed that Kielly has helped him in his rookie season, and believes that it’s the reason for his success in net as of late.
“Preparation is the biggest thing,” Rasmussen said. “Last year I played U16 and it was a good level but I wasn’t challenged as much as I am this year. The way I see Jake prepare for every game and every practice, seeing some of the vets in the locker room, I’ve really tried to learn from them and prepare as well as I can.”
That type of progression and development is what Nelson and the rest of the Storm coaching staff outlined as goals at the beginning of the season. Tri-City is heading into the weekend as the top team in the Western Conference, with two of the league’s hottest goaltenders at their disposal. Both Rasmussen and Kielly have made winning a Clark Cup their goal for this season, and remain focus on the day-to-day objectives to get there.
As for their future, Kielly will evaluate his returning options in the offseason while Rasmussen will return to Tri-City as a top prospect for the 2017 NHL Draft. The USHL style of play has positioned both goaltenders to be key contributors to their future teams, something Nelson noted separately for how the league helps develop future NHL and NCAA talent.
“I agree goaltenders in every league are usually late to develop. Every level up is quicker and better, and from a goaltending standpoint you have to find that pace again and keep making small adjustments to keep up with the pace of place play,” said Nelson. “The USHL is a great platform for that. What head coach Bill Muckalt and assistant coach Ben Gordon have been able to do, and not just with goaltending, but the repetition and teaching these guys is a lot different.
“As a whole the USHL is a great developmental league to push players to college and not only be there, but make an impact immediately. These kids are coming in and they’re ready to play. They can go from there, excel, and play pro. This league has done a lot.”
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 14th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2015-16. A record 37 players were chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft and more than 375 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.
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